San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Paragon Offers Fine Cuisine, Art in Rohrmoser

The word “Paragon” denotes a model of excellence. As you walk in the door of this recently opened restaurant in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser, naturally you hope it will live up to its name. Having heard rave reviews, six of us paid a visit for a Saturday luncheon and were not disappointed.

Owners Luis Diego Lizano and his wife Ileana Soto must be commended on what they have achieved, considering this is their first experience in the area of gastronomy.

“Paragon is completely independent, but provides a dining option for the Hotel Casa Roland next door, which serves only breakfast,” Lizano said. “We serve international and American-style bistro food, both in the dining room and upstairs bar.”

Not ostentatious, the downstairs dining room’s black and white color scheme and dark mahogany-colored wine cabinet and polished wood ceiling create a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. At one end, maroon leather banquettes offer alternative seating to the tables with their black leather chairs and snowy white tablecloths. An eclectic collection of art by well-known Costa Rican artists including Rafa Fernández, Julio Tamayo, Flora Zeledón and Rodolfo Stanley dominates one wall and is worth a visit in itself.

The upstairs bar furnished with leather sofas is a comfortable, cozy, candlelit lounge that serves the same appetizers and sandwiches – deemed excellent – as the downstairs restaurant. For those desperate to get online, Internet access is provided free of charge on the second floor. Soto said that in the near future the restaurant plans to offer live trova music in the bar on Friday nights.

Hunger pangs prevailed, but it was difficult to make a decision from the appetizer menu, which included asparagus rolls with serrano ham, calamari rings and tenderloin carpaccio.We ordered the salmon carpaccio and fried Camembert and munched on fresh, very garlicky Spanish ciabatta bread.

The carpaccio dressed with thinly sliced onions, ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice couldn’t have been better.

The fried Camembert served on shredded lettuce, which unfortunately lacked any hint of dressing, was accompanied by a blackberry sauce. The lightly breaded Camembert was very good, and the tart fruity sauce was exceptional and lapped up by everybody who spread it on their bread. A strange appetizer indeed, bread and what looked like jam, but we couldn’t resist the yummy sauce.

We passed on the three salads, Caesar, Caprese and the Paragon, which caught my eye. Lettuce, cheese croquettes, prosciutto rolls and asparagus sounded like a very interesting combination. The onion soup, a tasty beef broth covered with a dark, bubbling, cheesy crust, is highly recommended.

Among the nicely presented main courses is a choice of steak, chicken and fish, in addition to a selection of pastas. The steak served with a red wine reduction was tender and cooked to order, but the carnivore in our midst admitted the beef lacked flavor. The Cajun-style chicken breast and the chicken breast served with artichokes and red pimento accompanied by a green pepper sauce were juicy and flavorful.

The catch of the day, corvina, disappointed the diner who ordered it, who found it “very bland and in need of livening up with some type of sauce.”At her request, a dish of melted garlic butter and lemon juice arrived and she was happy.

Among the pastas, the penne alla puttanesca received no complaints.

All main courses, except the pastas, are served with somewhat dull, shoestring diced mixed vegetables and baked or mashed potatoes.

The former appeared to be baked in the microwave and then diced into cubes. Those who ordered it admitted it wasn’t their idea of a baked potato and were disappointed.

We ordered a selection of desserts to share with our excellent coffee. The cheesecake, chocolate cake with ice cream and tiramisu, all attractively presented, were completely upstaged by the crème brûlée. Guatemalan Chef Andrés Monzón certainly came up trumps with this one. It was declared five star, wonderful and superb as we pierced the caramelized sugar crust to reach the rich, creamy custard.

Our attentive waiter Randall Zamora gave us excellent service throughout our meal. We had fairly long waits between courses, but it was a leisurely lunch and we had no objection, as everything was obviously being cooked to order.

Paragon offers a large selection of international wines, plus red or white house wine, Chilean Trio by the glass (¢2,325/$4.50). Prices are similar to those you will find in other restaurants of this caliber. Appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches range from ¢2,500-5,300 ($4.80-10), main courses including pasta are prices at ¢3,000-8,000 ($5.80-15.40) and desserts are ¢1,500-1,650 ($2.90-3.20). As stated in the menu, prices do not include 13% tax and 10% service.

Location: At the end of

Rohrmoser Blvd.

, turn left and continue one block south. Paragon is on the right-hand side next to Hotel Casa Roland.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. The upstairs bar is open 4 to 10 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 3 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Phone: 291-3605.

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